LOVE and WARdrobe

Freeconomy- A Rubbish Idea?

Some may say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, but more are finding an answer to the recession in an unlikely place; their bins.

Imagine arriving home for dinner and seeing your other half dash to the neighbour’s dustbin for some vegetables (although the kids may argue that the bin is where they belong). Would you be disgusted or just see it as a resourceful way of not wasting food? For an increasing amount of people, it’s the latter. Routing through rubbish for bruised carrots and meat scraps may be a last resort for many whilst Sainsbury’s are still stocking delectable delights, but for the politically and socially committed Ethicureans, who wish to Chew The Right Thing and only consume in accordance with their ethical principles, meals-on-bin-wheels is a preference not a necessity. 80% of people who eat from bins, are not, in fact, homeless. But why would anyone chose to salvage food which we imagine to be covered in leaking milk and nibbled by rats?

Adam Weissman is the creator of Freegan Info, a website for Freegans; those who only use freebies and follow a Vegan lifestyle of avoiding consuming any product made from an animal source - so wrapping up from the winter chill in a woolly jumper is a no-no. Freeganism arrived in America in the mid-nineties alongside other left-of centre environmentalist movements. It has since gained popularity and, as the recession has affected many, is spreading to the United Kingdom. Weissman states that many businesses use unethical practices, like animal abuse and child labour, which cannot be stopped by targeting individual guilty organisations - Primark being the most recent example of a company to be accused on child labour.

‘We live in a culture where we are constantly told to consume, but most of the time we don’t need or use what we buy. It ends up in landfills, which is damaging for the world and is wasteful’ argues Weissman, who hasn’t bought anything since he was 17 -years-old. Not one for the goldiggers, then.

The old metaphor of one man’s garbage being another man’s treasure is certainly fitting in the Freegan ethos. And indeed, treasure some do find, but fear not, this does not involve investing in an eye patch and diving into the sea, rather, Freegans ‘dumpster dive’ - a term for scrounging through skips.

Many delve into supermarket skips, which often hold safe and packaged food that is unsold, returned or with dented packaging. However, not all chains approve of the dives, with a Somerfield spokeswoman stating to the BBC that
‘as a responsible fresh grocery retailer we cannot condone this behaviour.’ Dumpster Divers also run the risk of getting prosecuted for trespassing.

The Secret Freegan, a blogger who remains unnamed, claims to have found thousands of dollars worth of food in bins per year; ‘people are surprised when they see that most of the food thrown out is perfectly edible. I sometimes find 20 loaves of bread just needlessly chucked out because stores need shelving room.’

Food hygienist Cathy Spencer dismisses the notion that once food is in the bin, it is unsafe to consume; ‘if cleaned and cooked appropriately, the majority of food is still safe to eat.’ The Secret Freegan blogger suggests cleaning food with 1 tsp of white vinegar, and for Meagans - those Freegrans that are not Vegan - a tongue twister but means they eat meat, she advises only taking frozen meat and cooking it at 165oC. Some Meagans go as far as to eat road kill, as it is more resourceful than killing another animal for meat. However, rare meat is not to every Meagan’s taste, and so some prefer to go to schemes like Food Not Bombs (FNB) which collects unwanted food and gives it to the homeless, the poor and to anyone who wants a free meal. FNB was created in America as a protest against America spending money on weapons rather than food for the starving. Similar initiatives have been set up in Britain, with Crisis Fareshare collecting donated leftover food from over 100 chains, including Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer’s, to give to fill the homeless instead of the landfills.

Sainsbury’s have also joined forces with Good Housekeeping Magazine to promote being more resourceful with food in a scheme called ‘Love Your Leftovers.’ This may erect memories of unwanted childhood dinners, but the scheme promises recipes to make more than just Oliver ask for seconds. Easy tips include freezing wine to add to gravy and sauces to refresh the taste (although made easier if you actually have any unwanted, leftover wine - a rare condition indeed).

Government figures suggest supermarkets discard 5% of their food, but it seems the greater problem lies with households, as the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP) claim that British households are some of the most wasteful places in the world. It is said that annually half of the 6.7 million tonnes of food that is thrown out is fit for consumption. In a lifetime, estimates suggest individuals waste £24,000 worth of food. A majority of this is down to best-before dates, with people believing that food is unfit after the date stated. However, biologist Patrick McCarthy argues that the best-before date on products rarely matches when it is unsafe to consume the product, ‘90% of the time the products last longer than the best-before-date. It is simply a way of encouraging further sales whilst preventing anomalous cases in which food may degrade quicker than usual.’ Sociologist at PSC Anne Fazey argues the reason for such high levels of waste is embedded in business; ‘we are living under the misapprehension that food should always be perfect and that if it doesn’t fit the grade we can chuck it away, in other words, a throwaway culture.’

Tips for obtaining food without touching a bin include plate scraping (taking leftovers off plates in restaurants-not one for the self-conscious) and bartering for food. Slightly more rebellious methods include shoplifting - but one assumes a Freegan will only be happy with this if the prison meals are free.

However, contrary to common belief, Freegans don’t just simply offer a way of obtaining free meals and scrounge through skips. In fact, Freeganism promotes living on as little money as possible in all areas of life, as well as saving the environment. And although you may now be getting images of hippies chained to trees chanting ‘save the fluffy bunny rabbits’ -and don’t deny it- many of us in fact follow Freegan lifestyle rules everyday, from recycling to reusing plastic bags at the supermarket. Admittedly, for many this may be to save 5p- but even this is Freegan!

Everyday lifestyle commodities - like a house, home furnishings and transport can also be gained from paying next-to-nothing, freeing up money to pay for the things you really want to do or, as many Freegans do, putting it into a Freedom Savings Account - an account which will let you save enough to quit work earlier and spend more time with your family. Or, more likely, pocket money for the children.

Websites like Freecycle and Craiglist
allow people to give away unwanted items completely free to those who want them in their area. And it’s not your average jumble sale bric-a-brac; televisions, desks and beds in perfect condition are up for grabs just via an email. It’s perfect for sneakily getting impressive presents, and for ridding yourself of a few unwanted ones -yes, they can live on to torment the next poor soul. ‘Freemeets’- like a flee market but with no money exchanged, are also a favourite for the savvy saver.

Other ways Freegans save pennies include squatting- the act of occupying unused or abandoned buildings without paying any rent or council tax. Often, squatters turn the chosen building into a community centre for meetings, children’s arts activities and education about the environment, as well as a home. However, squatters are deemed as an annoyance by many landlords; ‘they often prevent people from wanting to move in neighbouring houses and can get aggressive when asked to move’, recalls property developer Barry Thomson.

Previously homeless Cally Davis defends the idea, suggesting that landlords should comply with squatters wants; ‘keeping a building empty and unused for months is selfish and immoral when there are people living in decrepit places. Human need should be key.’

Other useful resources in the community include Guerrilla Gardens- places where people grow and share food, as well as Wild Foraging- the act of harvesting food and medicines that are in our natural surroundings. Davis states ‘if there are apple trees down your road, use those apples rather than buying ones that are shipped around the world and plastered in pesticides.’

Other forms of financial saving that are integrated with environmentally efficient methods include using vegetable oil instead of diesel in cars, or hitchhiking, as it fills a seat that would otherwise go unused. The most obvious environmentally friendly transport is of course walking (which should burn a few pounds as well as save them) or riding a bicycle. Community Bike Programs and Bike Collectives are societies that teach people to repair bikes, as well as to restore them and share them within the community, leaving helmet hair as the only excuse for not riding a bike.

In terms of saving resources for the planet, Weissman suggests using solar energy, avoiding dishwashers when you can wash by hand and using handkerchiefs instead of tissues. Slightly less appealing options promoted by website ‘Freegan Info’ include drinking urine to save on the 10 gallons of water that is used per toilet flush, and ‘dumpster diving some adult diapers and have a party where everyone straps one on and fills it up’.

Although not many would be up for wanting to recycle a used nappy for the incontinent at the office party, simple measure like composting, turning off unnecessary lights and giving things we don’t need to those who do, will make us all feel a little better in this financial hurricane of a year.